La Palma, declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve, is one of the Canary Islands of Spain. It is also known as “La Isla Bonita”, which made my husband, D, and I immediately wonder if Madonna had visited this beautiful place as well (and of course that song was stuck in our heads for much of the trip!). Regardless of its history (or not) with Madonna, this island was absolutely gorgeous. The diversity of vegetation to explore, along with the unique volcanic landscapes, and of course the incredible black sand beaches, made this a natural wonderland for our week-long adventure.
We booked a lovely apartment at Apartamentos Fuente La Teja & Spa in Los Llanos de Aridane. Everything about this place was excellent… helpful and friendly staff, an apartment with everything you would need to feel comfortable and at home, a pool and Jacuzzi, an outdoor barbeque, and a balcony with a gorgeous view of the ocean in the distance where we could enjoy colorful sunsets with a glass of wine in the evening.
During our stay we rented a car (which I would say is a MUST to really explore this island), and we attempted to drive every kilometer of windy road on that island to see everything we could in our time there!
First stop: Puerto Naos. This was a small beach town which had a beautiful black sand beach. We could tell this town was a bit more touristy, with lots of higher-rise hotels, restaurants looking out on the ocean, and a large resort hotel on the southern end of the town.
Next, we headed north to Puerto de Tazacorte. This was my favorite beach town that we came across on the island. It had a very nice and good-sized black sand beach, with hotels and restaurants as well, but somehow this quaint town felt more cozy and cute. I also liked the way it was surrounded by cliffs and mountains moving inland that provided beautiful views whichever way you looked.
Other interesting spots along the west coast of the island included El Puerto, an old port with a steep staircase leading to the ocean. Most interesting here were cave-like homes that people still live in along the steep path! The next spot was Mirador Puerto de Garafía, where we came across stunning coastal cliff views with a variety of cacti and flowers creating a stark contrast to the dark volcanic rock.
Our first big hike on La Palma started at Cubo de La Galga, a gorge that leads you through beautiful lush jungle canyons up to a viewpoint. Admittedly, this viewpoint reminded us of something out of the DHARMA Initiative on the show “Lost” (remember that??) as we found just a block stone structure and dilapidated overgrown viewing areas and informational signs. Was this a bigger tourist attraction in the past? Not sure…
We continued our steep hike down through the town of La Galga and then dropped down onto cliffs and canyons moving toward the ocean. The landscape here changed dramatically with lots of cacti, cliff caves, and steep canyons. What goes down must come back up, so after a steep climb back up from the ocean cliffs we arrived at a small town called San Bartolo. Here we were able to get a cold cerveza at the local bar and drink it sitting outside a beautiful church constructed in what seemed to be the local building style.
If you are at all interested in astronomy or star-gazing, La Palma is the perfect island to visit! Because of its high elevation at 2,400 m (7,874 ft) above sea level, several international observatories and telescopes have been built on the Roque de los Muchachos (the highest point on the island). If you visit, remember to bring lots of warm clothing because it was definitely cold up there! We joined an observatory tour which provided us with interesting information as well as a tour inside the largest telescope, the Gran Telescopio Canarias. We were told the skies in this area are clear approximately 300 days per year since it is often above the clouds, which makes for some great star-gazing conditions.
A short day hike took us to Pico de la Nieve, which was a nice path through pine forest climbing to more volcanic terrain at the top. We were rewarded with gorgeous views of other Canary Islands in the distance, a thick blanket of clouds blocking our view into the Caldera region, and a lone raven eerily sitting atop a cross at the top. We were the only people up there, and it seemed as if this bird felt it was his domain, almost like he was protecting it!
We only spent a couple of hours in the largest city on the island, Santa Cruz, where we very much enjoyed the Spanish ambience. We ate at Restaurante la Placeta, a restaurant in the main pedestrian area of the city, where we ordered a very simple but DELICIOUS meal of a tuna sandwich and a chicken kebab with salad. You can ask D… I was talking about this tuna sandwich for the rest of the trip!! =) Then we headed for a sky safari tour at Astro La Palma, which was a night tour of the stars. We drove in a caravan to one of several sky viewing spots on the island, then looked through binoculars and telescopes at constellations, the moon (which was quite bright this night), and eventually Jupiter as it rose just on the horizon. This tour was a cool experience where we learned a few new things, but overall I think it was way too overpriced. Just know that if you decide to do star-gazing on your own or in a group in La Palma, don’t forget the blankets because it was FREEZING!!
Our second big hike on La Palma started at the Bosque de las Tilos Visitor’s Center. This hike really had it all… gorgeous varied landscape moving from jungle-like laurel forests into higher altitude pine forests. The trail itself was varied, moving up and down super steep hills, through ravines that required rock scrambling, and through a series of 13 tunnels which were created mainly to route water from the higher mountain areas through canals that you walk beside much of the time. Tunnel 12 gets you really wet, and Tunnel 3 is the longest and darkest which was slightly unnerving. After about 20 km of hiking this adventurous trail, one of the best surprises came when we spotted a taxi in the small town of Los Sauces and got the driver to take us back up the hill to the Visitor’s Center!
The southern part of the island, around FuenCaliente, is much more volcanic. We drove through and visited the lighthouses and rocky beaches in this area. We had a delicious fresh seafood meal at La Casa Del Volcan, which our waiter expertly paired with some local La Palma white wines.
Our final hike was a shorter day hike along part of the Ruta de los Volcanes that started at the Refuge Del Pilar. The parking area was at a beautiful campground/recreational area that had excellent facilities including several fully covered BBQs and lots of wood sitting in a pile to use for this purpose, along with playgrounds for the kids. Surrounded by fresh pine forest, several families were enjoying the warm sunny day. We hiked a circular route that took us through pine forests with pine needles blanketing the ground, then climbed gradually until we could see several cinder cones, a blanket of clouds in the valley below, Tenerife Island in the distance, and a huge volcanic caldera.
For our last sunset on the island, we headed to my favorite beach spot at Tazacorte to enjoy the peaceful sky, black sand, and crashing waves. A perfect end to our vacation in La Palma!
**If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Or, if you’ve been to La Palma or any of the Canary Islands, what was your favorite experience there?